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:: Saturday, November 08, 2003 ::

The Day Democracy Died

Frist Freezes Senate Probe of Prewar Iraq Data:
Angry about a leaked Democratic memo, the Republican leadership of the Senate yesterday took the unusual step of canceling all business of the committee investigating prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called on the author of the memo -- which laid out a possible Democratic strategy to extend the investigation to include the White House and executive branch -- to 'identify himself or herself . . . disavow this partisan attack in its entirety' and deliver 'a personal apology' to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Pull the other one, Bill...it's got bells on.

We all know that you didn't pull the plug because some dastardly Democrat was "politicizing it". That's bullshit of the highest order. If there's one thing we've all learned over the last decade, is that you idiots will politicize anything. I mean, coming from the party that time it's convention to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary, that's a pretty hypocritical statement.

You pulled the plug because the investigation was going to start making Boy George look bad. How could it not? The decision was his, the big "push to war" was his....from start to finish, this war was conceived, promoted, spun, sold, and run from the White House. Because of that -- even more so than usual -- the buck stops there.

I hope you remember, Bill, that history looks kindly on those willing to lay aside partisanship and do their jobs, even if doing so costs them their office. History, on the other hand, makes loathsome figures of partisan toadies like yourself, who cravenly refuse their duties to the American public in favor of covering their political asses....or, worse yet, someone else's political ass.

Stop cowering, stand up, and be a goddamn man. Do the job you were elected to do. You owe it to the American public to find out why, exactly, over thirty soldiers died this week. Regardless of the consequences of that blame. Four hundred dead soldiers demand it of you.
:: Morat 8:48 AM :: ::

:: Friday, November 07, 2003 ::

Hearts and Minds

Well, our brilliant "Hearts and Minds" campaign continues with this highly measured response to the loss of yet another helicopter, and another six soldiers:
In retaliation, American troops backed by Bradley fighting vehicles swept through Iraqi neighborhoods before dawn Saturday, blasting houses suspected of being insurgent hideouts with machine guns and heavy weapons fire.
'This is to remind the town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them,' said Lt. Col. Steven Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment.
In other news, Lt. Col Steven Russell states that his next strategy is to randomly kill every tenth man, since that worked really well for the Romans. If that fails, he's considering simply nuking any house that gives him "bad vibes".

He expresses confidence that random killings and destruction will be "very effective", and predicts a quick return to showers of rose petals....

Returning to the real world, I have only this to note: In Terry Pratchett's Jingo, the valiant forces of Anhk-Morpork invade Klatch. The Ankh-Morporkian army, heavily outnumbered, expresses serene confidence that "Johhny Klatchman" will turn and run at the first taste of cold steel.

The Klatch army, comprised of battle-tested soldiers fighting on their own turf against an inferior force, find that particular assertation very amusing.

Listening to Lt. Russell, who is undoubtedly very good at his day job (which is, basically, smashing other armies into tiny bits of rubble with low casualties on his side) is very obviously not equipped or trained for peacekeeping. Hearing his solution to increasing guerilla attacks, I can hear, buried beneath his words, the assertation that once Johhny Iraqi tastes cold steel, all the fight will drain from him.

And I am reminded of Lord Chatham's speech on the Revolutionary War: "If I were an American, as I am an Englishmen, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms-never, never, never!! ".
:: Morat 8:58 PM :: ::

Greenspan optimistic on job creation but concerned about deficit

I have to agree with The Left Coaster about Greenspan's speech. I'm sure it's all well and good to say "We need to balance the budget, but I'd prefer spending cuts rather than tax increases", but you'd expect Alan Frickin' Greenspan to be a little more familiar with, say, the federal government and it's budget.

We all expect California's Governor-elect to say things like "We'll balance that multi-billion dollar hole by cutting waste!" because we all know he's not exactly bright and doesn't know jack about the California budget. We expect such rampant enthusiasm coupled with a complete lack of knowledge, and we fully expect reality to knock Arnold off his perch when it comes down to implementing his plans.

But Alan Greenspan? Where, exactly, does Alan plan to find 400 or so billion dollars in cuts? Let's take a casual glance at the proposed 2004 budget. This budget proposes (very optimistically) that we'll have a "mere" 300 billion dollar deficit. Let's accept that. Excepting Defense spending, we have a grand total of 429 billion dollars of discretionary spending.

That's right. Alan Frickin' Greenspan just suggested that the government cut seventy percent of it's non-defense discretionary spending. Placing defense on the table, Greenspan is advocating cutting merely one third of the discretionary spending of the United States.

We'll just lop off a few Army divisions, scuttle about half the Navy, mothball most of the Air Force and cut the marines back some. Then we'll stop spending money on frivolous things like roads, courts, the CIA, the FBI, the entire civil service....

We don't really use those things, do we?

After just a quick look at the budget, and assuming that Alan Greenspan is passingly familiar with that budget, I can only assume that he got ahold of some serious pot prior to his speech. Or Karl Rove has pictures of him snowskiing with Satan. Because to listen to a man advocate cutting 70% of government spending as being "better" economically than returning tax rates to Clinton levels, especially given the overwhelming economic success of the Clinton years....it just boggles the mind.
:: Morat 9:43 AM :: ::

Texas textbook vote ruffles religious activists

Nice to see the forces of reason and science win one:
The State Board of Education voted Thursday to approve biology textbooks, despite criticism from some scientists and religious activists who say the books fail to present criticisms of evolution.
The 11-4 vote was preliminary and the board was expected to give final approval Friday.
Some religious and alternative science groups had argued that weaknesses in the theory of evolution weren't adequately presented in the books. But scientists and educators argued that the theory of evolution is widely believed and is a cornerstone of modern scientific research.
Just a note to those who feel predisposed to dispute this decision: There are lots of religious and philosophical objections to evolution, which can be given whatever amount of time you wish, so long as you present them in the proper forum of a philosophy or comparative religions class. However, there currently is no scientific criticism of evolution, which is the sole issue regarding what should, and should not, be taught in science class.

Students deserve to be taught the best science available. For biology, evolution is it. While there is a great deal of argument and debate over the details of evolution, the broad scope as taught in public schools is virtually unassailable. The evidence is simply too deep, too strong, and from too many sources.

Biologists are confidant in evolution as chemists are in atomic theory, and for the exact same reason. Countless experiments and tests, performed over many decades, have confirmed them so thoroughly and well that, barring some extraordinary -- and massive -- influx of contradictory data, evolution will be in biology textbooks, both primary and secondary, for a good long time.

And to those whose religious ideology or philosophical viewpoints forbids such an answer, I suggest acquiring an excellent education in biology. The real stuff, taught and used by actual biologists. After managing that, you're welcome to do your own research. Perhaps you'll find something that biologists have missed. More likely, however, the sheer weight of evidence will make you reassess your prior beliefs.
:: Morat 9:26 AM :: ::

White House Puts Limits on Queries From Democrats

Just when I thought it was safe to put away my copy of 1984, George Bush sucks me back in:
The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.
The director of the White House Office of Administration, Timothy A. Campen, sent an e-mail titled "congressional questions" to majority and minority staff on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. Expressing "the need to add a bit of structure to the Q&A process," he wrote: "Given the increase in the number and types of requests we are beginning to receive from the House and Senate, and in deference to the various committee chairmen and our desire to better coordinate these requests, I am asking that all requests for information and materials be coordinated through the committee chairmen and be put in writing from the committee."

He said this would limit "duplicate requests" and help answer questions "in a timely fashion."

It would also do another thing: prevent Democrats from getting questions answered without the blessing of the GOP committee chairmen.
It just goes to show that the old saw is true: "There's no such thing as a stupid question, but there are such things as stupid people.". I'm not sure concentrating them in the White House was a good idea, though. Perhaps, in the interests of safety, we should take care to disperse George Bush's staff to the corners of the globe, lest such concentrated stupidity, malice, and greed ever pose such a threat again.

In the meantime, however, I eagerly await the howls of outrage from the right-wing. As the bastions of limited government and strong government oversight, I expect their ideology will demand they denounce such a move as un-American.

I won't hold my breath, however.
:: Morat 9:12 AM :: ::

Flags Versus Dollars

Paul Krugman proves, once again, why he gets space in the New York Times and I just post on a blog:
Howard Dean's remarks about the need to appeal to white Southerners could certainly have been better phrased. But his rivals for the Democratic nomination should be ashamed of their reaction. They know what he was trying to say — and it wasn't that his party should go soft on racism. By playing gotcha, by seizing on the chance to take the front-runner down a peg, they damaged the cause they claim to serve — and missed a chance to confront the real issue he raised.
My real complaint about the whole issue revolved around the "tempest in a teapot" nature of it. Every principal involved knew damn well what Dean meant, but spent a great deal of time pretending otherwise.

I don't blame Joe Voter, who isn't expected to be familiar with Dean's stump speeches and policies. I do, however, blame those candidates and pundits piling on Dean...because they have a professional and ethical responsibility to be familiar with the matters they speak on.

Blame Dean all you want for poor phrasing, for an awkward and potentially misleading shortening of his stump speech, but I simply didn't find the mock outrage of his opponents to be terribly believable...or appealing. It looked just like it was: The worst of "gotcha" politics.
:: Morat 9:05 AM :: ::

Companies Add 126,000 Jobs in October

Much better news on the job front, and I hope it continues to improve. I still worry, however, about news of layoffs...and can't help but wonder how much of this is seasonal work. It is, after all, the busy time of the year for retail stores.
:: Morat 9:03 AM :: ::

Six Killed in Helicopter Crash in Iraq

We lost another six soldiers:
An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed Friday into a riverbank near Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s hometown of Tikrit, killing six U.S. soldiers, the military said. It probably was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, several officers said.
It's very saddening to come to the realization that losing "merely" one soldier a day was the calm before the storm.

Things have deteriorated so much in Iraq that I'm beginning to lose hope that anyone can fix it, and I'm starting to wonder how bad it will get before wiser heads take over.
:: Morat 8:59 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, November 06, 2003 ::

SEIU delays Dean endorsement

Daily Kos is reporting that the delay in the SEIU endorsement of Dean came at the request of AFSCME, in favor of a joint announcement Wednesday. A few commenters with insight (and contacts) into the unions involved indicated the same thing. At least one of them was very depressed by the idea, as he is in no way a Dean supporter.

SEIU's endorsement was a blow to Gephardt. If AFSCME goes to Dean as well, I'm thinking Gephardt is done in Iowa. Dean was holding even with Gephardt in Iowa, and this without the backing of the two largest unions. Given AFSCME's large Iowa presence, this will flood the Iowa caucus with experienced Dean supporters, as well as lending muscle and organization in other states.

While not quite the disaster for Clark, Kerry and Edwards as it would be to Gephardt, a double endorsement will make Dean an even more formidable opponent in the primary.
:: Morat 3:07 PM :: ::

Car Update

Well, as much as I have problems with my health insurance, my car insurance is first-rate. I've got to say that State Farm has been an excellent choice, and they've been extremely helpful.

I just got off the phone with the body shop, and State Farm's claim assessor had just left, having signed off on (and dropped off a check for) another 3900 in damage, bringing the total costs to repair my 2002 Beetle Turbo-S to 10,200.

And little of it is in major damage. The engine is mostly intact - although I need a new intake manifold - the transmission is solid, the frame is solid, the axles and brake assemblies came through just fine. But there's 5500 in parts alone (new front end, new back end, new windshield, new hood, new radiator, new trunk, new driver's side seat, new dash to replace the airbag....), and it just adds up.

10,200 dollars. Thank God for insurance. My claim representative talked about a "diminished value" claim, and with damages over half the value of the car, it's something I'll have to look into. On the bright side, it should be ready in the next two to three weeks. And I'm pretty sure I've made the body shop's week.
:: Morat 12:45 PM :: ::

Tax breaks for hybrids

Atrios notes that, according to NPR, the final version of the energy bill is likely to contain tax breaks for hybrid cars., but only in a certain range of efficiency.

In other words, make the car too energy efficient, and lose the tax break. Seriously, it's an incentive to make them efficient but not too efficient.

Personally, I've always thought there was a better way. Target tax breaks to performance pegged on the CAFE standards. As an example: Offer a 100 dollar tax break for every mile per gallon over the CAFE standards. Thus the tax break on a Honda Insight (60+ mpg) would be considerably more than the tax break on a Toyata Prius (40 mpg), but in both cases you'd pay less than you would otherwise.

Of course, if you really wanted to encourage fuel efficiency, you could create a special CAFE tax for cars underperforming. Pragmatically, however, that would just lead to refusal to ever change the CAFE standards and the creation of a monster list of exemptions. SUVs would never be covered.

Better a carrot approach to rewarding good mileage, by offsetting the increased price of the car. You could even include SUV's, but only allow the tax break if they met the same standards as ordinary cars.

Of course, this plan has a snowball's chance in hell of passing Congress, which is a pity. It seems, to me, to be a rather straightforward way to encourage fuel efficiency while still allowing total freedom of choice.
:: Morat 11:16 AM :: ::

Minor panic attacks...

You know, just for once, I'd like to get through a week without having a minor heart attack over some piece of unexpected mail. God knows my wife wishes I could.

My initial reaction to nasty surprises is to immediately assume the worst, work out how to deal with it, then if I can't get the details (or talk to the companies or people involved) ignore it until I can. But I need that initial "Oh crap!" moment, and the frenzy of me working out contingency plans if everything goes wrong.

Like, for instance, last night when I got a surprise notice from my health insurance, claiming that my wife's recent procedures were at an "Out of Network" center, and I owed 20% (roughly 1100 dollars). So, I immediately panic, work out where I can get 1100 dollars if I need it (fun choices there, I assure you), and then settle down and start looking into it online, as it's too late to reach either the surgery center or my health insurance.

As I found out last night, and verified this morning, the problem was that the center had changed it's name (and tax-ID) in August, after being sold to another corporation. Everything else, besides the name, stayed the same. Including insurance coverage and network participation.

So I called them, verified they were "in network" (turns out they had gotten the bill two days ago, and sent back a "Yes we are in your network, thank you" note to my insurance), and then called my insurance company. They said "Oh, we see how this could happen. We'll resubmit the claim in light of this information" and that was that.

Not really worth the panic, in the long run. On the other hand, if I'd owed the money, I'd have already worked out how I was going to pay it (assuming I couldn't work out a payment plan) and would already be working on that. So it's, you know, productive panic.

Drives my wife up the wall, though. Not that I blame her.

And just to top off my morning, I locked my keys in my car when I stopped for gas this morning. I can tell it's going to be a beautiful day.

:: Morat 10:04 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, November 05, 2003 ::

Guardian Book Quizzes

Well, I managed a respectable 7 out of 10 on Iain Banks (excellent writer), which isn't bad given that I've only read his SF stuff. I can't seem to find a copy of Feersum Enjin or The Crow Road these days.

On Douglas Adams, however, I barely managed half (I curse myself for my weakness, but some of those questions were biographical!).

Pratchett, however, I got them all. Because, of course, Pratchett is unto a God of funny, and I like the funny.

Well, and I've just read a lot of Pratchett recently. I can stop anytime I want to. Really I can.

Speaking of Pratchett, here's some Pratchett Short Story Goodness: Death and What Comes Next. I'm wondering if it was written before or after Night Watch, as Death's response is very much in line with the answer Vimes is given by the History Monks regarding the multiplicity of universes. It was rather obviously tossed off quickly. If you want a good short story of his, check out his contribution to the Legends anthology.
:: Morat 3:19 PM :: ::

Dune: The Butlerian Jihad

Why do I do thinks like this to myself? Why do I read things like this? So, here I am reading The Butlerian Jihad (which does NOT rate a "What I am currently reading" spot on my sidebar, because I have standards!) and coming to hate myself.

Not that it's a bad book. It's really not. In a lot of ways, it's considerably more approachable and readable than the Frank Herbert books. But the setting doesn't read true. It reads like exactly what it is: Kevin Anderson playing in someone else's sandbox, and not daring to do anything more than play with the toys left by it's owner.

I read it, and realize that (with a very few exception) every bit of setting is Frank Herbert's. Every interesting notion, every fascinating cultural sidelight, every bit of setting or character that stands out....isn't theirs.

I read it, and it's just...filler. Another Dune book. Sure, it's nice to be back, hanging out with Sandworms and killing a few cymeks and all....but I really want to be learning more about the Zensunnis and the Zenshia, I want to explore their cultural roots and their viewpoints. I want some depth, dammit! Depth of your own.

Yeah, it's Frank's world. Yeah, you've got a lot of restrictions. But, for the love of Pete, aspire!.

Oh, and your Star Wars books...much the same thing. You're a competent writer, I'll give you that. Your prose is serviceable, your characters...well, they could be worse. I've personally see worse. And, well, you're pretty serviceable at playing in other people's universes.

Take your Star Wars books. You were playing in a rigid universe, by other people's rules. But Michael Stackpole was better. I, Jedi was better, and part of that book took place inside your Jedi Academy plot. Allston's Wraith Squadron was even better, showing flashes of humor that fit into the Star Wars mold, yet breaking new ground. And, of course, Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy had it all: Look, feel, setting....

I understand that, with your first set of Dune books, you were working (mostly) with pre-existing characters. You don't have that excuse now. People can, and do, manage to add new life, new ideas, and memorable characters to other people's worlds. Your contemporaries added Corran Horn, Wraith Squadron (and, of course, Lieutenant Ketch. Yub-yub, Commander), and Mara Jade...you added that one Jedi guy. The one that was brash, and young, but latter learned valuable lessons through genocide. You know the guy...

I'm happy to have someone mucking with the Dune world. But please, please, PLEASE attempt to add some depth, and not just stretch out Herbert's old work. Perhaps, I dunno, make your characters a bit more interesting. Something. Make part of that world your own. Add something to Dune, not just stretch the thing out.
:: Morat 3:08 PM :: ::

Daily Kos' Diaries

For those of you who simply can't get enough blogging, you might check out Daily Kos' Diaries, which is basically a "metablog" portion of Kos's website, in which any user can create an entry...which any viewer can comment on.

Good ones get moved to the Kos mainpage. Go check it out.
:: Morat 12:37 PM :: ::

Dean's Hammering

LiberalOasis notes (right after their positive post yesterday) that Dean really stuck the foot in last night.

I can't say I disagree. Dean looked surprised to be hammered to heavily by Edwards and Sharpton, and he should have expected it. He came off defensive, although kept his temper...which had to be difficult. It can't be easy to hear your opponents make veiled references to you as a racist, especially when everyone on that stage knows the truth of the matter.

Nonetheless, it hurt Dean. How much? I don't think too badly. A lot of morning news revolved around his decision on campaign financing (putting it to a vote of his supporters, of all things) and should he pick up the SEIU endorsement as expected, it'll be out of the news in favor of more positive coverage.

The Washington Post notes that Dean has apologized (and Edwards accepted it with less snark than he could have) stating "I regret the pain that I have caused, but I will tell you there is no easy way to do this and there will be pain as we discuss it and we must face this together hand in hand as Dr. (Martin Luther) King and Abraham Lincoln asked us to do."

Unless Dean loses Jackson's support or the SEIU vote, expect this to fade rapidly. And Edward's apology indicates that he, at least, sees the issue having limited appeal. What Kerry or Gephardt will do is anyone guess, although given their respective positions (Kerry's standing in NH, and the likelihood of a Dean endorsement by the SEIU offering a similar blow to Gephardt), I'd expect more attack ads. Ones that will probably backfire, as Dean is certain to respond with ads showing his DNC speech and offering the quote in full context. However, it's possible that the others also see that they run a risk attacking Dean too hard on this issue, and are content to tarnish him as much as safely possible.

One common failing among all politicians is a failure to realize when you've gotten all you can from the moment. Pushing the issue is part of politics, and too often politicians from both sides of the aisle push too far, hoping to gain a few last points...Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner and carrier stunt spring to mind.
:: Morat 11:23 AM :: ::


I noticed that Angry Bear was having the same Backblog troubles I have (their server is, supposedly, up now). He noted that Haloscan is now accepting new users, and switched. I think I may follow suit. I wanted Haloscan originally, but until they accepted new users, there wasn't much I could do.

Of course, this now makes the third time I've switched comments systems. Hopefully the last.

Update: And, since about four or five people have mentioned it, this also gets rid of that pesky 400 character limit, giving you a nice 3000 or so characters to make your point. Enjoy!
:: Morat 9:50 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, November 04, 2003 ::


The blog has been really slow to load today, and it appears that Backblog's comments are partially (or totally) responsible. I've turned them off, for the time being. We'll see if it helps. I'll keep an eye on backblog to see when they've got things working again.
:: Morat 12:40 PM :: ::

Diebold takes a hit...finally.

Calif. panel delays certifying electronic voting equipment:
Voting rights advocates and computer scientists declared a major victory Monday, after an advisory panel to California's secretary of state postponed certification of a paperless voting system.
According to several people who attended a 15-minute meeting in Sacramento of the state's voting systems panel Monday afternoon, assistant secretary of state Marc Carrel surprised about two dozen attendees by announcing that the advisory panel had recently discovered 'disconcerting information' about Diebold hardware and software. Many attendees expected Carrel to approve the TSX for use in the upcoming primary.
Given that this isn't the first time Diebold has modified it's software without recertifying it, this is a welcome development.

I was starting to wonder if Mickey Mouse would have to win a major office before someone broke down and did a little thinking about the wisdom of "black box" voting systems.
:: Morat 10:43 AM :: ::

Shrill Goodness

Shrill columnist and notorious Luskin stalkee Paul Krugman delivers his latest:
Academic economists often cite Stein's Law, a principle enunciated by the late Herbert Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Nixon administration. The law comes with various wordings; my favorite is: 'Things that can't go on forever, don't.' Believe it or not, that's a useful reminder.

For we're now led by men who think that macho posturing makes Stein's Law go away. On issues ranging from budgets to foreign policy, they insist that we can sustain the unsustainable. And when challenged to explain how, they engage in magical thinking.
He uses -- of course -- the deficit and our occupation of Iraq as examples of unsustainable activities.

Since there's not much for Luskin to actually get his teeth into, expect him to misunderstand, whine about being wrongfully accused, accidentally fisk himself, or perhaps send out a few more legal threats.
:: Morat 10:30 AM :: ::

Can anyone stop Dean?

LiberalOasis has a really good post up about Dean and the recent pseudo-flap about the Confederate Flag.
LiberalOasis has rhetorically asked a couple of times, "Can Anyone Stop Dean?"

This weekend is a prime example why the answer is probably, " no"

In theory, Dean could go down because he makes more controversial, impolitic statements than your average successful politician.
As LO notes, Dean emerged unscathed. Jackson's endorsement (and the silence from the NAACP) undoubtedly helped, as did Dean's quickness to bring out videos of that same comment appearing in a DNC speech (that line, in fact, got a standing ovation from a multiracial audience.) LO does point out that Dean's mistake wasn't the comment, but forgetting that context matters. It was obvious, from the quote, that he was referring to a line from his standard stump speech...but, in politics, you can't really assume your audience has all heard it.

Of course, this doesn't excuse Kerry and Gephardt. After all, they knew better. Joe Average Voter might not have heard Dean's stump speech, but at this stage in the primary any candidate could recite his opponent's standard talking points.

Dean should take note of his mistake, and be a little more careful to place his comments into context. On the other hand, his opponents should realize that "gotcha" politics isn't quite as easy as it used to be ..especially with Dean's money and his very active defense forces.

If Dean gets the SEIU endorsement on Thursday, as people are beginning to suspect, expect the "desperation factor" from the Kerry and Gephardt campaigns to double or more.
:: Morat 10:17 AM :: ::

"The Daily Show" Squashes "Fair And Balanced" -- Again

Trish Wilson points out a truly wonderful fact: Among 18 to 49 year olds, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show managed to draw about 640,000 views a night....beating out Fox by a fair margin, and absolutely crushing CNN, MSNBC and CNBC.

Now that's "infotainment". (Hey, if "advertainment" is good enough for Stewart, "infotainment" works too.)
:: Morat 10:06 AM :: ::

Music of the Day

My brother gave me the new REM CD (In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003). It's a good CD, and most of my favorites are on here. A few I hadn't heard often, but there aren't really any songs on there I don't like. It's an especially good album if you're the "I like the REM songs I hear on the radio, but not much else they do" type. "Best Of" albums tend to be that way.

A lot of my recent REM enthusiasm is because I saw their show here in Houston. It's something of a drive to the Woodlands (where most big shows take place), but it's generally worth it...and ticket prices -- especially lawn seats -- aren't that bad. The appeal of live music, whether it's REM, Dave Matthews, or just a friend's garage band...really can't be overstated.
:: Morat 10:02 AM :: ::

:: Monday, November 03, 2003 ::

Just for the record...

Since I've blogged on it all day today, I'd like to clear something up: I'm not fan of the Confederate Flag. I don't own one, don't have one on my car, and if someone were to give me one it'd end up in the trash.

I don't like them, I certainly don't support them (or any version thereof) being flown on government buildings, and I really wish the Southern Pride folks would find a different symbol.

But that's my perogative. But I'm not going to go out and pretend that all the people that disagree with me on this issue are somehow "closet racists", which is exactly the tack Kerry and Gephardt took.

It's the lowest sort of mudslinging politics, and it's damn near sunk Kerry and Gephardt to "I'd vote for Lieberman first" levels. And I was pretty fond of Kerry....

Just to put this in perspective: I've had many conversations about the Confederate Flag. Normally, I'm the one talking about how it's racially insensitive and how people need to think about how others view it.

The truth of the matter is that many people stereotype the South on this issue. To them, the Confederate Flag means "slavery". Rather than admit that, to a good number of Southerners, it means something different, they prefer to just label the whole lot "racists" and go on their merry way.

I'ld be perfectly happy to see Kerry, or Gephardt, or even Dean come down here and talk to whites about the cultural legacy of the Confederate flag, and how it's seen by most people. In return, I expect them to live up to the notions of fairness and tolerance (supposedly a liberal hallmark) and be honest about what it means to those in the South.

Dean seems to be the only one willing to avoid the assumption that the South is brim-full of racist rednecks. And for that, he gets attacked. No wonder we never have a chance in the South. I don't (and Dean doesn't) share the viewpoint of those who paste the stars-and-bars on their cars and trucks. But at least we're willing to understand why they do it.
:: Morat 4:14 PM :: ::

"Guys with Confederate flags"

And, of course, right after posting, I find that Mark Kleiman said it so much better than I did.
But when he said he wasn't sure we really need a ban on 'assault weapons,' he was telling the truth substantively and doing a smart thing politically in terms of winning next November. And when he said, in explaining his position, 'I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,' he spoke an important truth, one that Democrats need to learn unless we want to be a permanent minority party.

For the Republicans to fight the culture wars is disgusting, in my view, and now that we're fighting a real war that figures to last for a while you could even call it unpatriotic. But at least they have a bad exuse: the majority of the people in this country for whom the culture wars are a voting issue vote on the conservative side. Republicans have been winning elections for years by getting people who oppose their substantive policies to vote for them because those people find the Democrats so culturally threatening.

Some of that cultural threat is real: Democrats stand for the full participation of ethnic minorities (and in particular black people) and of women in the economic and political life of the country, and that implies some amount of cultural change. Moreover, though it would be nice to imagine that none of the gains for women and minorities will come at the material expense of white males -- for example, in the competition for jobs -- it's not going to be the case. Some games are zero-sum.
And as to wanting to win the votes of the guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks, of course we want their votes. I've been a tough as anyone on the neo-Confederate wing of the Republican Party and the current President's pandering to it, but Dean's not talking about appointing as Attorney General someone who thinksthat the Union Army was committing aggression when it fought the pro-Confederate militias in Missouri, or appointing Dixiecrats-turned-Republicans to appellate judgeships. He's talking about appealing to a group of voters who would be benefited by having a Democrat in the White House and who vote Republican in large party because they think -- not entirely without reason -- that the people who run the Democratic Party despise them, their lives, and their values.
Well said. (Bolding mine)
:: Morat 1:26 PM :: ::

Dean, Democrats, and the South Part II

That first post was getting a little long. To continue:

These three groups aren't entirely discrete, of course. There's a great deal of overlap, although the out-and-out race-haters are few and far between.

So which was Dean talking about? And which should the Democrats be talking about? Well, first off, we can write off the KKK and Aryan Nation groups. Kerry's spin to the contrary, there isn't any Democrat looking to them...and even most Republicans are embarrassed to be around them.

The other two groups, however, are not people we should really write off. Most of them are simply not bad people.

The GOP-type racists, the sort prone to muttering about building thousand mile fences along our borders, would be hardest to peel off. This group tends to be the core of any Democrat's "Southern Strategy", in that many of them are far more swayed by concerns other than race, and the trick to getting their vote is to offer them something they can support (fiscal discipline, for instance, or strong national security...or even, as Clinton did, welfare reform) while avoiding or negating the GOP attempts to cast the issues in racial terms. As I said, they're not bad people....they're just burdened with some untrue (and rather nasty) stereotypes that the GOP has spent time and effort entrenching.

The "Son of the South" types, however, are the ones Dean appears to be aiming for. People like my brother-in-law, and like some of my friends. Most aren't racist at all (none of the ones I know, leastwise...), and most would benefit heavily from Democratic concepts like better health insurance, better education for their kids, and better labor laws.

Two things have stood in the way: First, they tend to be very attached to their guns. Secondly, they're often patronized as racist. Insulting a demographic, and following that up with an almost casual attempt to abridge what they consider a "core freedom" doesn't really win their votes. In fact, it's enough to ensure that you won't even get their attention.

Too often they're labeled as ignorant hicks, as Bubba's, as rednecks (although most tend to be proud of that label), as gun-nuts...and as racists. Yet, as Dean says...their children need good schools and good healthcare too.

In the decades since Civil Rights, we've let the GOP make the South entirely about race, and we helped them by lumping together southerners as hicks and rednecks and racists, at least outside the occasional "enlightened" city or capital.

But the south is full of poor people, it's full of children without access to doctors or medicines, it's full of bad schools and environmental problems....and all the usual issues that concern Democrats all across the nation. Problems these people are desperately searching for solutions. And what do we offer them? Condescension. We insult them, and their heritage by casually lumping them together as racists, as gun nuts, as religious nutcases. And we have too many people wanting to "fix" the South, without ever bothering to understand it.

Does Dean have a chance at winning over these people? No, not really. But by refusing to write off Southerners as unrepentant racists, by refusing to write off the South period, by showing signs of actually understanding the South...he's starting a process that might get us there eventually, and without losing any of our ideals in the process.

As far as I can tell, Dean's the only one who shows any sign of understanding what makes the South tick, and the only one that seems to realize that they should be on our side. Poverty and sickness don't respect racial boundaries...
:: Morat 1:23 PM :: ::

Dean, Democrats and the South

Watching the minor dust-up over Dean's remarks, I was once again reminded why conventional Democratic wisdom puts so much into importance on having a "Southern Candidate". It's because, by and large, most Democrats outside the South don't have the first clue about the South, and it shows.

I've lived in Texas all my life. I know the South pretty well. While I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a typical Southern white male....a lot of my friends are, including my brother-in-law, who is a dyed-in-the-wool redneck. And proud to be one.

Here in the South, there are several different types of racists and racism. The most well-known -- and the least common -- are your usual "mean racists". We're talking the KKK, white supremacy movements and the like. They're Nazi and Confederate-flag waving, fascist propaganda spouting, Aryan-type movements of the most vile sort. And while groups like this are far more common in the South than in the North, they're not terribly well tolerated even here, nor are they all that common. They're fringe, in every sense of the word. Offhand, I don't know anyone who fits this description, although friends of mine do occasionally go throw rocks at the Klan whenever they decide to pop up in public. Racists like this aren't going to vote Democratic until they grow a brain, and no one (are you taking notes, Kerry? Because you're irritating me) is advocating seeking out their votes. Most consider the GOP far too liberal for their tastes.

The most common sort of racist in the South is what I like to call a "Republican racist". They're the product of twenty or more years of GOP propaganda. They're predominately conservative, and their racism is far less about hate (or even fear), but mostly about stereotyping. Several decades of GOP propaganda, of conservative talking points, have more or less convinced these people that most blacks are shifty, prone to crime, not that bright, and would sit around all day smoking crack and cashing their Welfare checks if the GOP wasn't out there fighting the good fight. They don't tend to restrict themselves to blacks, of course. They tend to stereotype all races and are generally pretty unhappy about any sort of immigration. These are the Rush Limbaugh listening, Fox-news watching types...and I know a few of those guys. Strangely enough, they're quite capable of having, even greatly respecting, individuals they know....despite class or race. It's groups they stereotype, not their Hispanic or African-American friends. This group, despite my label, isn't a hard-core Republican group. They're far more interested, on the whole, in the economy and their own pocketbook than in race matters. They simply don't care that much about race, other than to occasionally bad mouth Jesse Jackson. They're not exactly "live and let live" people, but for the most part...it's not worth the effort to them.

The third group is the "Southern Heritage" group. I'm not entirely sure I'd call them racist. "Racially insensitive" is a far more accurate term. These are the people, and I know quite a few, who are intensely proud to be a son of the South. They are proud of their heritage, their land, their values, and their history. And, to them, the Confederate Flag is a big part of that, because the Civil War was a defining moment for the South. They tend to, for the most part, ignore the whole "slavery" component altogether, and view the Civil War as being entirely about State's Rights, and tend to cast themselves -- and their ancestors -- as fighting for what they believed in, against the power of the federal government. They tend to be very pro-gun, and remain fairly distrustful of government in general and the federal government in specific. But other than ignoring (or choosing not to address) the racial aspects of the Civil War and the meaning the Confederate Flag has to African-Americans, they're not any more (or less) racist than anyone else.

They are just very proud to be from the South.
:: Morat 12:51 PM :: ::

:: Sunday, November 02, 2003 ::

Wolfowitz's Deep Thoughts

I found this over at Daily Kos, and felt it had to be passed on. Wolfowitz gave a speech at Georgetown and answered some questions at the end. His answers to a pair of questions are, I think, probably the most obvious and glaring example of a particularly odious -- and popular -- White House tactic.
Q: Hi, Mr. Wolfowitz. My name is Ruthy Coffman. I think I speak for many of us here when I say that your policies are deplorable. They're responsible for the deaths of innocents and the disintegration of American civil liberties. [Applause]

We are tired, Secretary Wolfowitz, of being feared and hated by the world. We are tired of watching Americans and Iraqis die, and international institutions cry out in anger against us. We are simply tired of your policies. We hate them, and we will never stop opposing them. We will never tire or falter in our search for justice. And in the name of this ideal and the ideal of freedom, we assembled a message for you that was taken away from us and that message says that the killing of innocents is not the solution, but rather the problem. Thank you. [Applause and jeers]

Wolfowitz: I have to infer from that that you would be happier if Saddam Hussein were still in power. [Applause]
Q: I'd just like to say that people like Ruthy and myself have always opposed Saddam Hussein, especially when Saddam Hussein was being funded by the United States throughout the '80s. And -- [Applause] And after the killings of the Kurds when the United States increased aid to Iraq. We were there opposing him as well. People like us were there. We are for democracy. And I have a question.

What do you plan to do when Bush is defeated in 2004 and you will no longer have the power to push forward the project for New American Century's policy of American military and economic dominance over the people of the world? [Applause]

Wolfowitz: I don't know if it was just Freudian or you intended to say it that way, but you said you opposed Saddam Hussein especially when the United States supported him.

It seems to me that the north star of your comment is that you dislike this country and its policies. [Applause]

And it seems to me a time to have supported the United States and to push the United States harder was in 1991 when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering those innocents so viciously.
He managed to get both "objectively pro-Saddam" and "dissent is anti-American" into play there.

Way to go, Wolfowitz. Everytime you open your mouth, I get a little closer to believing that you guys would be far happier in a fascist government than a democratic one.
:: Morat 10:10 AM :: ::

Bloody Sunday

U.S. Helicopter Shot Down; 15 Killed:
U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter packed with soldiers headed for a short-term break was hit with a missile and crashed in the field west of Baghdad on Sunday morning, killing 15 soldiers and wounding 21 others in the deadliest single attack on American forces since they invaded Iraq.
I've been expecting a high-casualty incident for awhile. There have been too many reports of attacks on helicopters over the last few weeks not to expect a successful one sooner or later.

I'd like to reiterate a point I've made several times: On Iraq, I wanted to be wrong about the Bush Administration. I wanted them to surprise me. I wanted them to show a deft hand and attention to detail. In short, I wanted Iraq to go competently and smoothly, even though I expected otherwise.

As partisan as I am, the President of the United States plays for stakes too high for me to want to see him fail, just because I dislike his policies. Even as I criticize and pick apart his statements, policies, and orders, I hope to God that I'm wrong.....because being right means -- at least lately -- dead soldiers, lost jobs, fewer allies, and more enemies.
:: Morat 9:59 AM :: ::

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